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Global Auckland: ATEED’s rebranding of Auckland

Originally published August 20, 2015:

After a comprehensive review of Auckland’s economic development strategy, Auckland Council’s economic growth agency ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development) is undertaking Global Auckland, a comprehensive rebranding project chaired by New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME) CEO Jane Hastings.

Auckland’s been the City of Sails and the Big Little City. Aucklanders have been JAFAs and (long before that) Rangitoto Yanks. But none of these holdovers from the good ol’ days of the share market boom, the America’s Cup or the John Banks mayoralties work for the diverse ‘super city’ of 1.5 million people that Auckland is becoming.

“It’s not a tagline and it’s not a logo,” explains Vivien Bridgwater, general manager of destination and marketing at ATEED (whose appointment we covered here). “It’s ‘What’s the DNA of Auckland? What’s the story, or stories, of Auckland? What’s the persona of Auckland?’ Let’s get some narrative on what the difference is between Auckland and Wellington, or Christchurch, or Melbourne, or Sydney, or Ontario, or San Francisco.”

Of course, new logos and taglines are a likely outcome of the rebranding, but logos and taglines are means to a new brand identity, not ends in themselves. Logos and taglines can come in and out of favour, while a brand identity can become inherent in the city and its residents.

Amsterdam is a great example. After seeing Amsterdam drop in various international economic rankings (including tourism, conferences and investment) throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the city began a major rebranding project. In 2004, after two years of consultation, the team concluded that the city’s residents and businesses wanted to move away from the image of city of vice and canals towards images of enterprise, innovation and creativity. The city wanted a brand that would go beyond tourism, appealing equally to businesses and individuals in the city as well as the surrounding areas.

The resulting I amsterdam campaign is represented by a striking red and white logo, which is used on not just t-shirts and mugs, but on the city’s websites and social media and on the windows of business across the city. The city also commissioned three large physical versions of the logo, one outside the famous Rijksmuseum, one in the Schiphol airport, and a third which travels around the city’s cultural events.

I amsterdam has been a huge success for Amsterdam. Not only has its logo become instantly iconic (apparently photographed over 8,000 times a day), its themes of inclusiveness, creativity and innovation have been widely embraced by businesses, residents and tourists alike.

Similarly, Global Auckland’s goal is to promote Auckland across domestic and international business, tourism and major event industries, targeting potential investors, businesses, skilled workers, high-value tourists and fee paying students. To achieve widespread buy-in for the resulting branding (and avoid a Wellywood-sized misstep), ATEED is working with public and private stakeholders, especially from those who rely on Auckland’s brand internationally.

“We are competing on global stage,” says Bridgwater. “People make choices about where they want to visit, where they want to invest, where they want to start their business, where they want to send their children for education, where they want to hold conventions.”

While ‘Brand New Zealand’ is well-developed and well-recognised internationally, our international branding efforts tend to focus on snowcapped mountains and crystalline rivers, on deserted beaches and impossibly blue water, on wizards and hobbits. Our identity is characterised by resourceful farmers, down-to-earth All Blacks, and No 8 Wire inventors. Bridgwater says Global Auckland will have to fit alongside and inside these efforts, including the government’s NZ Story and Tourism New Zealand’s 100% Pure campaigns, but will focus on Auckland’s particular diversity of population, landscape, and lifestyle. Bridgwater is excited that the most recent Tourism New Zealand TV commercial includes even a few seconds of Auckland’s cityscape. “Not that long ago there was no city,” she says, “there was only rolling green hills and all that kind of stuff.”

“So, we need to get a narrative around why you’d come to Auckland. We know why people will come to New Zealand. But Auckland, if you like it or not, is at the heart of our economic future for New Zealand. If we don’t have a great Auckland, we don’t have a great New Zealand.”

In July, ATEED completed the ‘Discovery’ phase, which included 95 in-depth interviews, a survey of with a diverse range of over 4,000 Aucklanders, and a #loveAKL social media campaign that engaged with over 50,000 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram users.

The project, which has a $480,000 budget, is currently in the ‘Strategy’ phase, where the common themes emerging from the interviews and surveys are assessed with the help of Auckland’s residents, businesses, visitors, and other stakeholders before being tested on international audiences. ATEED has also engaged Colenso BBDO, who will help translate the project’s findings into practical outcomes (and yes, perhaps logos and taglines), which will translate the brand to Aucklanders and, in turn, the world.

The project is to be completed by the end of the year, which Bridgwater acknowledges is “tight”, although she sees the engagement aspect continuing as the project lives in the real world.

“We will bring one-and-a-half-million people together and create a narrative where they will become Auckland champions,” says Bridgwater. “Whether it’s the concierge at a hotel, or the cab driver that picks you up from the airport, or a restaurant owner, or the chief executive of Air New Zealand, we’re all on brand with our narrative and our stories around Auckland.”

Given ATEED’s focus on economic development, Bridgwater emphasises the need for the brand to have authenticity for Auckland’s residents and buy-in from its businesses, particularly in high-growth and innovative industries. “To grow Auckland, we have to bring investment into Auckland, we have to grow businesses in Auckland, and we have to export out of Auckland,” she says. “So whatever we create, [businesses] have to be able to find something relevant and useful.”

By focussing on Auckland’s identity and story, rather than just a logo or tagline, Bridgwater hopes the brand will be inclusive of the past, but future-orientated. Of course, cities still need infrastructure and policy, but infrastructure and policy can help create a city’s brand, which, in turn, can help to shape the city. “It’s not static,” she says. “It’s an aspirational position. Whatever [the brand] is will be something looking forward, something that gets us going into the future.”

“The journey of creating our city identity is telling the stories of our past, but also looking out into the future and saying ‘What kind of city do we want to be? What kind of people do we want to be?’ If this is one of the most diverse cities in the world, what does that mean to us? We have to grow with intention. You can’t just fall into the future.”

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